Graduating Lions Take the Field at Baker for Class Day

Thursday, May 16, 2024
The Class of 2024 cheers at Class Day.

A mighty roar: The Class of 2024 celebrated Class Day at Baker Athletics Complex on May 14.

Eileen Barroso

The sense of unity and strength of character that define the Class of 2024 were on full display at Class Day on May 14. From laughter at the memory of their rain-soaked Convocation, to cheers in support of the recent work done by the journalists of Spectator and WKCR, these graduates made their bonds — and class pride — felt.

The ceremony, at which 1,041 graduates and degree candidates joined the ranks of alumni, took place under sunny skies and against the unconventional backdrop of Baker Athletics Complex. The blue-gowned cohort marched in carrying the inflatable lions typically reserved for Commencement and took their seats under a tent on the soccer field. Though the rumble of the elevated subway could occasionally be heard, it was nothing compared to the roars that went up for the students called on stage to receive awards, among them valedictorian Kathy Fang CC’24 and salutatorian Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa CC’24.

The program’s featured speakers included Dean Josef Sorett; the keynote speaker, journalist Poppy Harlow CC’05; student speaker, Nicolas Lama CC’24; and senior class president, Priya Chainani CC’24.

Poppy Harlow CC’05

Class Day speaker Poppy Harlow CC’05

Eileen Barroso

Chainani delivered a twist on the notion of “unprecedented times,” observing how familiar that phrase has become to a class that began remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and spent its final weeks in the midst of protest and campus turmoil. But, as she said, their class has shown itself to be unprecedented, in how it has responded to the challenges that have come its way and in its ability to foster community despite adversity.

Referencing Columbia’s motto, “In thy light, we shall see light,” Chainani said, “What I think is truly remarkable is how our class completely redefined what this seal means. In our time here, students have illuminated their impact and power despite so much darkness in the world.”

Student speaker Lama began by recalling the torrential storm that upended their class’ expectations for a jubilant welcome at Convocation — a preface to observing that uncertainty is a concept the Class of 2024 knows all too well. But, he continued, “Columbia has shown me time and time again that in uncertainty, there is always opportunity. …

“I encourage you to go forth and embrace these new unknown waters before us with an open mind and open heart,” Lama said. “Do not get trapped in believing your identity is stagnant, that you can’t always listen, learn, grow and evolve. Our futures will have the infinite capacity to keep surprising us, if we continue to be the resilient class I know we are.”

Harlow, best known for her reporting with CNN, delivered a deeply personal speech that she promised would be honest if imperfect. She reflected on her father, James Harlow CC’69, who died when she was 15, and described an interview subject who changed her life with advice about the importance of “time and love — that’s the whole ballgame.”

Harlow observed that, like the graduates, she was currently “in between” — in her case, following the recent cancellation of the morning show that she’d been anchoring. “People don’t often talk about this part of life,” she said. “But we should, because the ‘in between’ is so much of life. It’s where insecurities rise, but resilience shines. And it’s where you get to choose the life you want — and find out how strong you can be.” Describing her own efforts to prioritize her family, she said, “Take it from me. Don’t run through your life. Savor time. Sit in the goodness that is the gift of those around you.”

Dean Josef Sorett speaks at Class Day 2024

Dean Josef Sorett

Eileen Barroso

In his remarks, Sorett spoke directly to the challenges of this moment, taking his theme from Langston Hughes’ 1951 poem Harlem. “This year our community has witnessed things, collectively and as individuals, that have left lasting and painful imprints on many of us here today. What will each of us do in the face of all that we remember of this most recent academic year?”

Sorett also spoke to his experience with the class: “You have surprised me on countless occasions by making startling observations and connections across disciplines, decades and philosophical and artistic traditions. You have pushed me to think differently about things I have discussed, written and thought about for years — forcing me to rethink how I teach and what I teach.”

He concluded, “It is my sincere hope that among the things you carry as you leave Columbia College are a belief in yourself and in others, that you remain open to new ideas and a capacity to change. You no doubt leave with the ability to interrogate the world around you — to see it as it is. And, I hope, you also leave with a commitment to do good in whatever way is true to who you are.

“Like generations before you, you step out into the world at a moment when there is a fierce and urgent need for your goodwill and for the intelligence to act on it in ways that move us to a better place. Through the pain and the joy, we are still here; and there is, indeed, an entire world waiting to see what you’re going to do with all that you remember from this time and this place.”